THE NEW female religious order to be founded in Hungary for nursing in Catholic institutions is not the only surprising recognition of nuns' usefulness.
The Libyan leader Col. Gadaffi is keen to have more nuns to staff Libyan hospitals: He prefers European to African nuns: quite a few Polish nuns work in Libya.
Immediately after the second WorldWar,a Lithuanian bishop
1.17ho was at Montserrat in Spain received a request. from Russian authorities for sisters to work in homes for the handicapped and agreed to the proposal.
In Rome also, sisters are much in demand in hospitals. It is probably thought that anything different would be surprising in a city where there are 19,000 nuns.
But only a few years ago, nursing sisters were suspect in Roman public hospitals as an impediment to State health.
services. Hospital reform was presented as the replacement of church-linked services by more efficient State methods.
However now, when State hospitals want Sisters, fewer are available. There are only 2,000 nursing Sisters among the 50,000 nurses working in 200 hospitals and clinics in Rome which handle over 600,000 cases a year.
Often nursing sisters are in charge of teams as they are all qualified (which is not always the case among staff in Italian hospitals) and often they specialise also.
These terms were agreed between the religious orders and the hospital administrations when the State assumed responsibility for the hospitals.
Nursing sisters work eighthour shifts rather than the normal seven hours and are paid only 80 per cent of the normal nursing salary.
Nursing Sisters broke through the rigid hours and schedules imposed in the "health factories" because they are indifferent to clocking-on or off and treat the patients as persons rather than as cases.
"There were rules" says Sr Picrangela of the Nuovo Regina Margherita hospital "that bedpans could not be taken_ to patients at certain hours. There were rules made for streamlined running of the .bospisal wit.boor reference to the patients' needs.
Bedridden patients have to be able to have a bedpan when they need it. I ignored the rule and, as I am the head nurse, the other' nurses followed my example".
Because of the shortage of Italian nursing sisters, about 500 non-Italian nursing sisters work in Roman hospitals. They include Lebanese and Poles.
Bishop Angelini tries to use his influence to release nursing Sisters to work in public hospitals and has created "intercongregational groups" fot the public hospitals and Sisters of various orders now collaborate within the same hospital.
It is better for the nursing Sisters to be requested rather than resented as was the case only a few years ago.
But one reason for the decline in the number of Italian nursing Sisters seems to be that it is not considered a sufficiently radical vocation. This is deduced from the fact that vocations are increasing in the contemplative orders such as the trappists.
Nursing Sisters, instead, often do not have time to pray. "We can't say the rosary when there is an urgent call" said one Sister in a Roman hospital, "neither the patient nor the other nurses would tolerate it". The nursing Sisters do exactly as the other nurses but, ideally, with greater love.
Jr might he a.sked bow Rome's 19,000 nuns spend their day?
Part of the figure is explained by Rome being the headquarters of most of the religious orders. There are 1,187 female religious communities of which 26 are "enclosed" convents. The smallest communities count only three or four nuns.
The nuns' principle activity is teaching. The second major activity is nursing which includes not only hospital work but help for the sick at home, for the aged and handicapped. They also provide services for students, pilgrims and the downand-out.
The vocations crisis for the female orders in Rome seems to have bottomed out. Nowadays vocations are coming from middle class families whereas previously they were from poorer families. Novices are better educated and older than they used to be. And, as already mentioned, there is a preference for the contemplative life.